The Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu will in the next parliament sitting present a bill to amend the Societies Act.
Although some of the proposed amendments have sparked controversy especially from some within various Christian denominations who view the move as government’s direct attack on the church, the move has been received with open hands by the Botswana Council of Churches (BCC).
BCC secretary General Mosweu Simane told this publication in an interview that the amendments did not come as a surprise to them as they have been engaging the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs on the matter. “BCC together with other church associations have met with the minister and discussed the issue so we are not really surprised” said Simane.
Among the amendments is the number of people that were required to form a religious organisation. “The number of people required to form a religious organisation would move from 10 to 250,” Minister Batshu was quoted saying. He explained that this came after a concern on the mushrooming of religious organisations around the country, some of which did not comply with the act.
This particular amendment does not sit well with some local worshippers as they feel the number is a bit steep. “Religion is a complicated matter, for some it’s a calling, where do you expect one to source 250 members during the first days of their churches” said Dineo, a local worshipper in one of the local churches.
For the BCC Secretary General however, the minimum number requirement is fair and will by no means prejudice anyone. “You don’t just wake up and decide to open a church” Simane said. According to Tsimane the clause will nonetheless serve the intended purpose of curbing sporadic mushrooming of churches.
In his previous meetings across different platforms Minister Batshu has acknowledged that the current Societies Act is inadequate. Responding to a motion during Ntlo ya Dikgosi sitting last year, Batshu said the inadequacy led to the act not being able to sufficiently regulate religious organisations. For that reason, he said his ministry found it fit to review and amend the Societies Act.
It may be also interesting to note that the Joint Advisory Committee of Ntlo ya Dikgosi and Botswana Council of Churches on Social Values which was led by Kgosi Gaborone, also recommended that registration of religious bodies should have stricter requirements for registration.
The Societies Act will, among others, give the minister the power to formulate regulations that would guide the operation of these religious organisations, as a way of assuring that peace and tranquility prevailed in these organisations.
The strict regulations proposed are expected to come in handy in the monitoring of operations of religious organisations, including a follow up on their payments of returns to the relevant authorities.
Some worshippers however still feels the minimum number of people required to form a church are a bit farfetched and will limit people’s desire to worship according to choice, others feel the amendments are all together an infringement on people’s freedom to worship as contained in the country’s constitution.